Being a dad, I’m always anxious to include my descendants in my beloved pastimes. My youngest son hasn’t showed a lot of interest in bow hunting yet, so opening day of rifle season would be his first deer hunting day of this year.
It was still what we call, “bad dark” when nineteen year old Patrick, who lives in a little house beside ours, opened the door. A gust of cold, very cold, air blew into the kitchen. He stepped into the warmth as I was struggling to squeeze my bulk into my favorite insulated coveralls.
I said, “Morning, Kiddo.”
“Morning,” he responded, then, “Coffee?”
I pointed to the pot. “You taking the ladder stand?”
He nodded. Silly question; it’s where he prefers to hunt. He had shot both of his previous deer from the same stand.
That left the popup blind on the bottom ground. Eddie, who farms our land, had harvested the soybeans from that ground the day before so I knew chances were slim that I would even see anything down there, let alone get a shot, but dads do what dads do and I had planned on sitting down there anyway.
I tossed my son some disposable hand warmers, knowing they would be indispensable that morning. Patrick left the house before me as I finished my go-juice and pulled the coveralls zipper the rest of the way up. The warmers were just starting to work when I stepped out into the below-freezing darkness.
“Stay home,” I told the dogs. Smart dogs are always nice. Ours aren’t, so I locked them in the house with my still sleeping wife.
Sitting in the cold blind, the minutes dragged on. I was comfortably warm, which is not always the case in that situation, so it wasn’t too bad. Of course, the fact that I wasn’t seeing anything made the time drag a bit, but I hadn’t really expected to see anything so I was content. Content enough that I was drifting deeper into thought (kind of like sleep, in this case), just when I heard the “crack-BOOM” from Patrick’s direction.
That got MY heart pumping.
He filled me in on the details later.
Patrick had found his way across the wheat field and stepped into the woods. There he went into stealth mode, or should I say, super stealth mode, since he had crossed the open field with senses alert, but not being too careful about foot placement since there was little risk of making too much noise as long as he didn’t stomp. In the woods, though, it was take a step, stop, look, listen; take another step, stop, look, listen; take another step, etc. He moved carefully into the waterway that led west to the stand.
Instantly, he froze! There was something in the gully ahead!
Trying to maintain his balance lest a misplaced foot should spook whatever it was, he strained his ears. It sounded big, like a deer, but he couldn’t be sure.
His heart went into overdrive. Patrick had never had buck fever before but standing within feet of something, presumably big, that might be the buck he was looking for, and that didn’t know he was there, did it for him. He thought it had to hear his heart pounding at any second. Then it would be gone.
It didn’t seem to realize he was there though. A little sound now and then told him the animal was climbing the side of the waterway, the same side the stand was on, and quite close to it. Whatever it was, it moved slowly out into the clearing.
Patrick waited until he was sure it had to be far enough away that it wouldn’t see him, then finished his slow walk to the stand. He climbed up and loaded his rifle.
He realized that the animal he’d heard must have walked right by one of my game cams. He couldn’t wait to see if the camera had captured the critter and would solve the mystery of what it was.
He climbed the ladder slowly and quietly and settled onto the seat of the deer stand.
What was that? Something moved along the west side of the opening. The gray shadow was too small to be a deer, but too big to be a rabbit or raccoon. It didn’t move like those either. It moved like a…cat! Sure now what it was, he followed the bobcat with just his eyes. Any movement of his head could give him away. The cat neared the northeast corner and disappeared into the woods.
Time passed slowly as the teenager watched the clearing. In the gathering light he saw some darker shadows moving across the dark field. Deer. They had to be. The size; the way they moved. He could tell there were some different sizes but not whether there were any antlers.
The sun slowly rose some more, enough that he could see the deer leave the clearing…all slickheads.
His feet got colder and colder, increasing his desire to move, to get his circulation going.
There, on the other side of the sweet gum tree. A deer! Antlers…or not? The deer moved and he began to think it must know he was there. It had to know or it wouldn’t have been able to always keep some leaves between it and him…always.
It moved out a bit and he could see the little forked antlers. With brow tines it might be a six pointer. It was small, but bigger than anything he had gotten before. Still, it was opening day and he wasn’t quite ready to use his tag on it when he knew there were bigger bucks out there. I had shown him a picture from the game cam of an eight pointer that had been in the same clearing just a couple days before…just a few yards from the stand he was sitting in right then.
He told me he couldn’t remember what alerted him that there was another buck in the woods. He looked and there was nothing there, but it seemed to materialize right before his eyes.
The buck stepped into the clearing and Patrick counted, “One, two, three, four, five, six,” a six pointer, but considerably bigger than the other one. A nice one. No record-book buck, but a nice one nonetheless.
The young hunter eased his rifle up and slowly centered the scope’s crosshairs on the deer’s boiler room.
He took up the slack in the trigger. Sque-e-e-e-e-eze, BOOM!
We exchanged texts and he went to the house to get the truck then circled to pick me up. We drove uphill to load the buck.
“Nice, son!” I said.
It was. The deer was fat and muscular and the six tines were pretty even.
Back behind the shed where we usually clean our deer, it hit me that, as many deer as Patrick has helped butcher, I’ve never actually had him clean one. I went to the house and retrieved the new game cleaning kit I received for renewing my membership to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
I gave a few pointers but trying to explain it is one thing and actually doing it is another. Hands-on is the only way to really learn how to clean game and mistakes are sometimes the most effective path to understanding.
When Patrick got to the stage where he had to remove the buck’s “boy parts,” I guess I wasn’t clear enough, because he cut it off when I wanted him to cut it loose. Oops. He reached inside the body cavity and grabbed the bladder. When he tried to pull it through the pelvis he managed to squeeze it and send an arc of golden liquid shooting up at him. I swear I saw some droplets on his face. I couldn’t help but laugh at his predicament.
When I was finally able to catch my breath, I said, “the taste of victory?”
He smiled wryly and said, “I wouldn’t call it that, not at all.”
In the next installment of Deer Hunting 2017 I am reminded why it is called hunting and not just gathering. For readers of “The Outdoors & Adventure Blog” you can check out my thoughts on hunting and life in general on my blog at www.adifferentdrummer.net . Please subscribe, it’s free!
(above, left) Patrick and his buck. (above, right) The game cam photo that proves Patrick almost ran into his buck on his way in to the stand that morning.